Compassionate, determined, and selfless are three words I believe sum up this week’s Sisterhood Spotlight. I first met Jenna Mills when I was competing for Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012 (and went on to win the title). She was so kind, always willing to lend a hand or borrow an item to anyone in need, possessed a sincere passion for Oktoberfest and the La Crosse community, and poured her heart out during competition. Our friendship was cultivated during that experience and it continued to grow as I watched her continue to compete and go on to win the title of Miss Seven Rivers 2013, providing us with the opportunity to experience our journey to Miss Wisconsin 2013 with one another. She’s the type of person who has an extreme zest for life, chasing after dreams, and pursuing new adventures and I’m extremely fortunate to call her a friend and sister of mine.
Name: Jenna Rae Mills
Hometown: La Crosse, WI
Current City: Chicago
Dream job: To travel internationally as a Wine Expert
Favorite color: Does Cheetah count?
1. What inspired you to get involved with the Miss America Organization? At the young age of 15, my mother, Judy, entered me into my first pageant in the teen division. I had absolutely no idea what to expect or even how to prepare for the competition. After the pageant was over, I left with many new friends and a new found confidence within myself. I guess you can say, I caught the “Pageant Bug” and have continued my career now for over a decade. The Miss America Org. was a great system to grow as a young girl as it gives all the skills to become successful and independent woman.
2. Tell us about your first MAO pageant. My first MAO pageant was in La Crosse at the Viterbo Fine Arts Center for the Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest title. My step mom was a former Miss La Crosse/ Oktoberfest and went onto becoming involved as greniers. Being born and raised in La Crosse, I thought it was only fitting to represent my hometown. I trained hard, practiced my interview skills, and worked tiring hours on my talent, which was a dance routine to “Think” by Aretha Franklin. I ended up getting first runner-up to Katie Ekern that year. I loved the experience and was hooked and ready to train harder for next year’s pageant.
3. What is/was your platform and why did you choose it? Over the years my platform has changed, as I have changed and grown myself. When I first began my pageant career, I choose Breast Cancer Awareness. I changed my platform to Childhood Obesity, then last year to Hunger Insecurity and currently working also with Going Green with the Miss Earth Org. I always choose something close to my heart, that I could personally get involved in and spread awareness easily to others. I always recommend to others, to pick a platform that’s fun and makes your heart feel good.
4. What is your favorite phase of competition, why? Swimsuit! This is my favorite, and many people’s least favorite, phase as it is where my physical hard work and passion shines through. I am very active and love to workout so for me it’s rewarding and fun.
5. Style, Service, Scholarship, or Success? I cannot thank the people who helped me along in this amazing organization. Service is such a big factor for me because I have been forever changed due to the love and support of the volunteers who help me get where I am now. That being said, too, Service (volunteering) was a majority of my time spent in my year as a titleholder. There are numerous memories that I will cherish for years and the people I was able to meet and help have imprinted on my heart too. These are the things that make it so special to a titleholder. Not only are you given this opportunity to look pretty with a crown on your head, but more importantly, use the crown to its advantage; using the power of the crown’s attention to raise the volume of your campaign.
6. What titles have you held and what were some of your biggest accomplishments or most cherished memories during each of them?
- My first title, Miss Seven Rivers 2013.
- I would have a long list of favorite memories but to start off, being crowned in itself was a big accomplishment for me. I was starting to get the nickname, “Miss Runner-up” and I just knew in my heart that my hard work would pay off and that I just needed to be patient. Having Abby Ryan as my director was like having my personal cheerleader along for the whole ride. Many of my favorite memories stem from having her by my side. Specifically one memory in general was packing up for Miss WI in her old purple car. It was packed to the brims! The whole drive to Miss Wisconsin we jammed out to oldies but goodies, like N’sync, TLC, and S Club 7. Her heart is pure gold and we still stay in contact today.
7. What is/was your talent and what do/did you enjoy most about performing it? I grew up a figure skater so I did a very unique talent called Pic Skating, which is a high performance roller blade assembled to my own ice skate boot. This allowed me to jump and spin on stage, just as I would on ice. Having this original talent really allowed me to share my passion for figure skating with my audience and judges.
8. Who is your biggest role model within the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Program? This is such a difficult question to just choose one person. There have been countless volunteers, fellow and former titleholders, pageant moms and directors who have been role models for me during my 10 years in MAO. Abby Ryan, Beth Vogt, Judy Smith, Jean Reinhart, Sally Meyer, Katie Warner, Kristina Smaby Schoh, Elizabeth Kramer Smaby, the Skogen family, the Butler family, and SO MANY other people!
9. Favorite comfort food outside of competition mode? Sushi and pasta
10. Who is your favorite Miss America? Why? I’ve been fortunate enough to go to nationals with Teresa Scanlan. She’s a very down to earth and loving girl. She was such a pleasure to get to know on a personal level.
11. How would you describe the feelings you had when you won your first local? What goes through your mind when you are standing on stage and you hear your name called? It was the greatest feeling. I said my name and contestant number in my head repeatedly and then the emcee actually announced it. I was shocked and filled with so much emotion. It was finally the realization that all my hard work was paid off. I kept reaching up to touch the crown as it was being placed on my head, to actually grasp the reality. I was extremely grateful and filled with joy!
12. If someone says, “You’re a beauty queen, what’s the relevancy of a pageant in today’s society,” what would you say to them? Over the years I’ve been called a princess, queen, beauty queen, Miss America, beauty pageant winner…
None of this is a negative connotation. Maybe to some people they don’t know the proper title and that’s perfectly fine. They all mean well and if I were not raised in this world, I’d make the same connection. To me, we are indeed beauty queens but that’s not the full extent. We are strong, beautiful, independent, loving and hard working young ladies who want to make a difference in our community.
13. What is the most memorable moment you’ve experienced as a contestant/titleholder? I was fortunate enough to meet this beautiful young girl, Delainey, who I still stay connected with everyday via social media. She’s always going to have a place in my heart. D has been a great role model for me as she has battled cancer and has defeated many obstacles. She’s my little ray of sunshine and I am so happy that she was a part of my journey!
14. How has your involvement influenced your life? I can certainly say it’s helped me nail every single job interview. At the end of a interview, in fact, the interviewer actually complemented me on my skills. It’s life skills like this that I have to thank MAO and it’s volunteers for. MAO sets young woman up for great success not only during their time in pageants but for the rest of your life.
15. What advice would you give to fellow sisters, contestants, and young girls looking to one day compete for a title? Be yourself, being confident in your own skin and embrace your unique self! Work tirelessly for your goals, never be scared to ask for help and utilize all your resources available. Lastly, have fun and make friends because these contestants become lifelong friends!
16. As a woman who has aged out of competing, reflecting back, how would you sum up your experience using only one word? Rewarding!